Thursday, June 1, 2017

I read the news today, oh boy

A man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
     -Paul Simon

It can't happen here
      -Frank Zappa


      Well Mr T, seems to have permanent spot on the front page.  Which as far as I can tell suits him just fine.

       Fake news, real news, it doesn't seem to matter.

       Here's a funny piece by Dave Roberts, about Mr T and a denialist meme - "crying wolf"  -i.e. "scientists keep changing their story - just a few years ago they were worried about global cooling, now warming, whats next"? .    This little bit of fake news even comes with its own fake over of Time magazine!

        But, even the "paper of record "the old lady lady, The New York times, has got some trouble telling the truth and the whole truth.  This article dissects the "cognitive dissonance " that is inherent in the opinion page.  Yes, it's fine to say that climate change is a serious problem , but when it comes to "taking your medicine"  , they prefer is with "a spoonful of sugar".   The sugar, of course, is that there is no need to disrupt economic growth , there is plenty of time for a gradual change .

This all has a tendency to treat climate change like an unpleasant chore, perhaps like getting a new roof.   "Something must be done, no doubt, but not right now "

This is probably not the wisest course.  First of all, the stakes are very high - an out of control climate could make life very unpleasant  - and could in fact kill a lot of people.  Secondly, the window of opportunity to deal with it is closing fast.

Consider  this article, which points out that the people who know the most about climate science are very worried , about the effects, not in  100 years - but in the very near future,  within the lifetime of their children or grand children.

"Civilization was made possible by the emergence about 12,000 years ago of the "Holocene" epoch, which turned out to be the Goldilocks zone - not too hot, not too cold. But now, says physicist Stefan Rahmstorf, "We are catapulting ourselves way out of the Holocene."

This catapult is dangerous, because we have no evidence civilization can long survive with significantly higher temperatures. And yet, the world is on a trajectory that would lead to an increase of 4C (7F) in this century. In the opinion of many scientists and the World Bank, this could happen as early as the 2060s.

What would "a 4C world" be like? According to Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (at the University of East Anglia), "during New York's summer heat waves the warmest days would be around 10-12C (18-21.6F) hotter [than today's]." Moreover, he has said, above an increase of 4C only about 10% of the human population will survive."

The main reason for pessimism is the fear that the planet's temperature may be close to a tipping point that would initiate a "low-end runaway greenhouse," involving "out-of-control amplifying feedbacks." This condition would result, says Hansen, if all fossil fuels are burned (which is the intention of all fossil-fuel corporations and many governments). This result "would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans."

Moreover, many scientists believe that runaway global warming could occur much more quickly, because the rising temperature caused by CO2 could release massive amounts of methane (CH4), which is, during its first 20 years, 86 times more powerful than CO2. Warmer weather induces this release from carbon that has been stored in methane hydrates, in which enormous amounts of carbon -- four times as much as that emitted from fossil fuels since 1850 -- has been frozen in the Arctic's permafrost. And yet now the Arctic's temperature is warmer than it had been for 120,000 years -- in other words, more than 10 times longer than civilization has existed.

According to Joe Romm, a physicist who created the Climate Progress website, methane release from thawing permafrost in the Arctic "is the most dangerous amplifying feedback in the entire carbon cycle." The amplifying feedback works like this: The warmer temperature releases millions of tons of methane, which then further raise the temperature, which in turn releases more methane.
The resulting threat of runaway global warming may not be merely theoretical. Scientists have long been convinced that methane was central to the fastest period of global warming in geological history, which occurred 55 million years ago. Now a group of scientists have accumulated evidence that methane was also central to the greatest extinction of life thus far: the end-Permian extinction about 252 million years ago.

Worse yet, whereas it was previously thought that significant amounts of permafrost would not melt, releasing its methane, until the planet's temperature has risen several degrees Celsius, recent studies indicate that a rise of 1.5 degrees would be enough to start the melting".

But some of 'us" won't have to wait for 2060.  As this article makes clear.  Based on this study

"According to this study, the tropics, which are the near-equatorial region of this planet that’s almost 100% impoverished, and that has thus contributed virtually nothing to global warming, will begin the period of permanent catastrophe starting in approximately 2020; but the (cooler) moderate-latitude countries, such as in North America and Europe, will begin this catastrophic period in or around 2047.
This isn’t to say that things won’t continue to get worse after then; it’s only to say that this is, as the article will be titled, “The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability.”
This landmark article was co-authored by a team of 14 climate-scientists. It says: “Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries.” It explains that the reason for this is that the countries near the equator have far less variability in their weather than do the moderate-climate countries, and so the species that constitute the ecosystems there cannot tolerate temperatures outside their narrow range, which has existed within that narrow range for thousands of years. Consequently, species-extinctions will soar there much faster and earlier than here. The existing impoverished economies, within around 2,500 miles of the equator (where average per-capita incomes are less than 10% of the average in the moderate-latitude countries such as ours), will become unlivable."

 This "cognitive dissonance is nicely summed up in this piece from the Guardian,   

Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual.”

Most citizens ignore or downplay the warnings; many of our intellectuals indulge in wishful thinking; and some influential voices declare that nothing at all is happening, that the scientists are deceiving us. Yet the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.

Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please.
The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

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